Music Matters: Rediscovering the forgotten sounds of Somalia

Music Matters: Rediscovering the forgotten sounds of Somalia
Iftin is the The Ministry of Education’s band. (Supplied)
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Updated 17 September 2020

Music Matters: Rediscovering the forgotten sounds of Somalia

Music Matters: Rediscovering the forgotten sounds of Somalia
  • Some of the Arab world’s most intriguing music is uncovered in Analog Africa’s latest compilation ‘Mogadisco’

MUSCAT: In the aftermath of the Ogaden War, Somalia’s Bakaka Band found themselves “somewhat meaningless,” in the words of singer Shimaali Ahmed Shimaali. Founded to sing patriotic songs by the government’s Ministry of Interior in 1978 — the height of the Somali-Ethiopian border conflict — peacetime presented a crisis of identity.

After reinventing themselves as a private party band, playing to tourists in Mogadishu’s hotels, the musicians were arrested — all because they had inadvertently chosen a new name, Gor-Gor Band, (meaning “Eagle”) that also happened to be the title of a militant group opposed to Siad Barre’s ruling regime.

As Shimaali tells it, the president had to personally intervene to get the group off the hook, ordering them instead to take the name Dur-Dur Band, and they went on to become one of the best-known groups from a golden era of Somali music that has gone largely unheard beyond the country’s borders.

Tracks by both Bakaka Band and Dur-Dur Band make up a healthy share of “Mogadisco: Dancing Mogadishu (Somalia 1972-1991),” a compilation released by the eclectic Analog Africa imprint at the end of 2019. It is more than a record, it’s a musical archaeology project accompanied by vintage photos and fresh interviews, in which Shimaali’s story is told.




Dur-Dur Band became one of the best-known groups from a golden era of Somali music that has gone largely unheard beyond the country’s borders. (Supplied)

Analog Africa’s Tunisian founder Samy Ben Redjeb tells Arab News that his visit to Somalia was the first by an international label, his efforts uncovering miraculous musical moments otherwise forgotten — such as “Hab Isii” (literally “Hug Me”) an infectiously seductive dance-floor filler driven by a stonking reggae rhythm and tropical flavor, recorded by singer Omar Shooli in 1986 — that offer a window into the culture of a country often overshadowed by its tumultuous socio-political situation.

“The thing with Somalia is that all the news you get from the country is only negative,” says the 49-year-old Redjeb.  “So to imagine that this was one of the most beautiful towns in Africa and extremely rich culturally – that was basically the message I wanted to navigate through the compilation, to paint a more positive picture of that country.”

After finally obtaining a visa, invite and host for his stay, Redjeb spent five weeks in the Somali capital in late 2016, waiting each morning to be picked up by the armed guards who would take him to the dusty archives of the state’s Radio Mogadishu, where he dug through stacked boxes of hundreds of often sparsely labeled cassettes.

“I knew I was not going to come back empty-handed, that’s for sure, but I didn’t know what exactly I would find,” he says. “That’s basically my job — to go into uncharted territory and try to find music that is interesting enough to be released for an international market.”




Samy Ben Redjeb is the Tunisian founder os Analog Africa. (Supplied)

Amid the radio jingles, political speeches, background music, devotionals and theater soundtracks, he uncovered documents of the capital’s thriving ’70s and ’80s band scene, original multilingual material heavily influenced by the era’s Western disco and funk flavors, but rooted in regional Balwo musical poetry traditions, and often smattered with a Latin and Caribbean lilt. More than mere ethnography, the music he assembled for release is as fun and familiar as it is fascinating and obscure — just listen to Marvin Gaye-loving singer Mukhtar Ramadan IIdi’s primitively recorded foot-tapping “Check Up Your Head” and “Baayo.”

Collectively, the release’s 12 tracks tell the story of a period both uniquely fertile but strictly controlled. Now the subject of their own standalone Analog Africa retrospective gathered from the same visit (“Dur-Dur of Somalia – Vol. 1, Vol. 2”), Dur-Dur Band’s story is not uncommon; after assuming the presidency following the 1969 coup, President Barre invested heavily in culture, and almost every government ministry boasted its own well-funded band. “While other African countries were going down musically and culturally in the Eighties, Somalia was going up,” says Redjeb. “Ghana in the Eighties was completely dead, while Somalia was exploding just because of the political environment.”

But the Bakaka Band’s brand of patriotic music is far more than the crude jingoism associated with the genre, the languid “Godonimada” (Choose Freedom) pits lazy call-and-response tribal chants over reggae groves, while the trippy “Geesiyada Halgamayow” (Brave Fighters) bounces between slow, spooky, and furious funk passages.




The state-funded bands were frequently called on to provide live accompaniment to musical plays staged at the National Theater of Somalia. (Supplied)

When they weren’t on government duties or representing Somalia at international festivals, these incredibly versatile state-funded bands were frequently called on to provide live accompaniment to musical plays staged at the National Theater of Somalia, with The Ministry of Education’s Iftin Band contributing the eerie, sci-fi-flavored synth instrumentals “Sirmaqabe” (No Secrets) and “Ii Ooy Aniga” (Cry For Me).

With new productions staged on a monthly basis, there was a constant demand for new, audience-pleasing scores, big on singalongs, which were hastily recorded and distributed to the public prior to the production’s opening. That’s the source of the compilation’s “Waakaa Helaa” (I Like You), an imploring falsetto sung by young female singer Fadumo Qassim, backed by the legendary Shareero Band.

After these formal theater gigs, the musicians would typically pile into a minivan with their equipment to moonlight at the city’s higher-end hotels, playing Michael Jackson or Tracey Chapman hits to a mix of Italian tourists and moneyed locals. When the revellers went home in the early hours, the bands would often stick around until dawn, writing and recording DIY cassettes of their own original music away from the demands of dancers and the pressures of politics.

“You couldn’t be totally independent, you always had a toe in politics, because you were a voice and the government would use that voice whenever they wanted,” warns Redjeb. “You might be independent, but when they called you, you had to be there.”


Egyptian actress Amina Khalil announced as United Nations Population Fund honorary ambassador

Egyptian actress Amina Khalil announced as United Nations Population Fund honorary ambassador
Updated 16 June 2021

Egyptian actress Amina Khalil announced as United Nations Population Fund honorary ambassador

Egyptian actress Amina Khalil announced as United Nations Population Fund honorary ambassador

DUBAI: Egyptian actress Amina Khalil has been named an honorary goodwill ambassador by the United Nations Population Fund, the star announced on Wednesday. 

Khalil gave an acceptance speech at an an event that took place this week in Cairo, saying: “Now it is time to act for women and girls everywhere.

“Bold steps to improve the lives of women mean a better future for children and families,” she added.

In a lengthy Instagram post, which she shared alongside images from the event, Khalil wrote: “It is truly an honor to be a UNFPA Honorary Goodwill Ambassador. I hope I make my family proud. I hope I make my loved ones and friends proud. And I hope to make my country proud.”

The actress has been an active advocate of women and their health in Egypt.  

“I promise to do all I can on this journey to bring positive change to my country,” her post read. “I promise to wholeheartedly put all the effort I can to show women and girls, that yes we have a voice, yes we have rights, and yes we all stand united.” 

The announcement came after UNFPA’s open-air ceremony held on Monday. The event was attended by international co-operation minister Rania Al-Mashat, president of the National Council for Women Maya Morsy and more. 


US actress Tracee Ellis Ross sparkles in Ana Khouri earrings

US actress Tracee Ellis Ross sparkles in Ana Khouri earrings
Tracee Ellis Ross wearing Ana Khouri earrings. Instagram
Updated 16 June 2021

US actress Tracee Ellis Ross sparkles in Ana Khouri earrings

US actress Tracee Ellis Ross sparkles in Ana Khouri earrings

DUBAI: US actress Tracee Ellis Ross was spotted wearing a pair of gold earrings from Brazilian-Lebanese fine jewelry label Ana Khouri this week. 

Ross, who is known for her role in sitcom “Black-ish,” posted a photo on Instagram on Wednesday championing the Lebanese brand, beloved by A-listers Angelina Jolie, Jessica Alba and Charlize Theron. 

In the photo, the 48-year-old can be seen wearing a mustard-colored Valentino skirt with cut-out floral motifs, a sleeveless, sequined turtleneck, rose pointed-toe pumps and Ana Khouri’s thick gold hoops. 

It’s not her first time championing the part-Arab jeweler’s designs either. The actress and producer also donned a pair of Ana Khouri earrings to complement her black Schiaparelli gown at the 2020 NAACP Image Awards. 


London Fashion Week: Designer Dahlia Razzook hones in on dresses for Fall 2021

London Fashion Week: Designer Dahlia Razzook hones in on dresses for Fall 2021
Dahlia Razzook Fall 2021 ready-to-wear. Supplied
Updated 16 June 2021

London Fashion Week: Designer Dahlia Razzook hones in on dresses for Fall 2021

London Fashion Week: Designer Dahlia Razzook hones in on dresses for Fall 2021

DUBAI: Dahlia Razzook is an US-Lebanese luxury womenswear designer who was born and raised in Houston, Texas, before moving to London to pursue her studies in fashion design.

During her first year at the London College of Fashion, she was offered an internship at Alexander McQueen. She would go on to cut her teeth at prestigious labels such as Ralph & Russo and Marchesa.

After honing her skills at other design houses, she decided it was time to launch her own namesake contemporary ready-to-wear label shortly after obtaining  her Bachelor’s in “Fashion Design Technology: Surface Textiles.” Thus the label Dahlia Razzook was born.

Dahlia Razzook Fall 2021 ready-to-wear. Supplied

For her Fall 2021 collection, which she showcased digitally during London Fashion Week — which took place between June 12-14 — the designer decided to churn out a perfectly timed lineup of dresses as COVID-19 restrictions ease and we’re able to enjoy a night out again.

Featuring just five pieces, Razzook focuses on stylish, fashion-forward pieces that can transition from day to night with ease. 

The babydoll looks are relatively pared back, sans any kind of embellishment or intricate handiwork, save for a sleeveless black dress with a lace bodice. 

Dahlia Razzook Fall 2021 ready-to-wear. Supplied

The designer relied on comfortable, luxurious materials such as satin and silk as well as feminine colors like red and peach to uplift the offering.

In addition to these ready-to-wear pieces, the designer also offers custom haute couture pieces tailored specifically for her clients.

Razzook first made a name for herself with her Spring 2018 ready-to-wear collection, which was inspired by the Epic of Gilgamesh – a poem from ancient Mesopotamia.

Dahlia Razzook Fall 2021 ready-to-wear. Supplied

According to the designer, the collection was also a tribute to her Arab roots: “It’s also the same place where my ancestors are from,” she said.

The made-in-England collection featured trousers, tops, dresses, cocktail and evening dresses, scarves and accessories that were all either digitally printed and/or exquisitely hand-embroidered from silk, down to the lining.

She showcased the collection during New York Fashion Week, and received praise from prestigious fashion publications such as British Vogue.


Part-Tunisian star Sonia Ben Ammar poised to make her Hollywood debut sooner than you think

Part-Tunisian star Sonia Ben Ammar poised to make her Hollywood debut sooner than you think
Sonia Ben Ammar is almost ready to make her Hollywood debut in 'Scream 5.' File/ Getty Images
Updated 16 June 2021

Part-Tunisian star Sonia Ben Ammar poised to make her Hollywood debut sooner than you think

Part-Tunisian star Sonia Ben Ammar poised to make her Hollywood debut sooner than you think

DUBAI:  It appears that Sonia Ben Ammar is almost ready to make her Hollywood debut. “Scream 5,” starring the part-Tunisian actress, model and singer, has completely finished production, meaning that the hotly-anticipated sequel in the beloved horror franchise is one step closer to hitting the big screen.

This week, co-director Tyler Gillett took to Instagram to reveal that the film is “picture locked.” To the film uninitiated, this means that the edit of the movie is now set as it moves into other stages of post-production. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by tylergillett (@tylergillett)

The post included a photo of Fox’s famed Newman Scoring Stage, where the movie’s score was being recorded, prompting Ben Ammar to comment: “All the feeeels right now (sic),” alongside the pleading face emoji.

In a similar post, the film’s other co-director, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, announced that the score is also complete, showing a closeup of sheet music.

“Picture is locked and we just finished scoring on the Newman Stage! Thank you so much to all of the amazing artists who have worked so tirelessly on this movie,” the filmmaker captioned the post.

The posts offer a rare glimpse behind the scenes of a project whose details have been kept under lock and key. In fact, the co-directors worked on multiple cuts of the film simultaneously to prevent leaks.

The plot details of the film have also been kept completely under wraps, so it is not yet known what role Ben Ammar will be taking on in the upcoming relaunch of the horror film franchise set to debut on Jan. 14, 2022. 

Paris-born Ben Ammar, along with other young franchise newcomers, joined returning cast members David Arquette, Courteney Cox and Neve Campbell, who are reprising their iconic roles as Dewey Riley, Gale Weathers and Sidney Prescott in the new film. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Sonia Ammar (@itsnotsonia)

It will be Ben Ammar’s first high-profile Hollywood gig as an actress — however, it’s not the multi-hyphenate model’s first foray into the film industry.

Ben Ammar, who is the daughter of Tunisian film director Tarek Ben Ammar and actress Beata, previously starred in Guillaume Canet’s French-language film “Jappeloup,” as well as the stage musical “1789: Les Amants de la Bastille.”


Morocco’s Casablanca to stage physical show at Paris Fashion Week 

Morocco’s Casablanca to stage physical show at Paris Fashion Week 
Updated 15 June 2021

Morocco’s Casablanca to stage physical show at Paris Fashion Week 

Morocco’s Casablanca to stage physical show at Paris Fashion Week 

DUBAI: Moroccan-helmed label Casablanca is among six other fashion houses set to present a physical show during Paris Men’s Fashion Week, the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode – which organizes Paris Fashion Weeks – announced on Monday.

After two seasons of digital presentations, the hybrid event will return with a selected number of brands showcasing their Spring 2022 collections in person and others presenting digitally from June 22-27.

Casablanca was founded by Charaf Tajer. The menswear, Paris-based label is known for its ultra-wearable clothing made out of luxe silks and cashmeres that is inspired by Tajer’s Moroccan roots. 

His debut runway during Paris Men’s Fashion Week in 2018 was a love letter to his parents who met while working side by side in a clothing atelier in the fashion district of Casablanca.

Besides Casablanca, Dior, Hermès, Bluemarable, LGN Louis-Gabriel Nouchi and Officine Générale are also listed to present physical shows. 

Digital presentations will feature runways for Louis Vuitton, Rick Owens, Dries Van Noten, Loewe, Dunhill, and more. 

Just last week, the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode announced that Lebanese designer Zuhair Murad will present his Autumn/ Winter 2021 couture collection in person at Paris Fashion Week, among seven other renowned labels including Dior, Azzaro Couture, Chanel, Giorgio Armani Privé, Balenciaga, Jean Paul Gaultier and Vaishali S. 

A limited number of guests will be allowed to attend the physical shows to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.